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The Fat Farm

If you want to feel better about yourself, take the weekend off and go to a water park. It is fun for the whole family. While you are there take a good look around. You will see that most of the people there, who are a cross section of American society, are fat and extremely out of shape. In fact, as you will notice, those at the park can be seen as representative of both ends of the body fat scale. You will see those who are so thin and frail that bones can be counted, and it makes you wonder just exactly how long ago it was since they had their last meal. And then others haven’t actually seen anything south of their third double chin for many years.

This trip to the water park is not to provoke an exercise in personal vanity. Far from it. First, it should serve as a stern warning that this could eventually be you if you don’t take steps now to avert the process. If you don’t do something now, you may become one of the overweight, out-of-shape masses who indulge in everything from super-sized, mega-calorie meals topped off with the most popular three-syllable word in America at about 5 p.m. each evening: Bud-Weis-Er.

You should also take away from this trip the knowledge that the vast majority of people you will come up against in the street are miserably out of shape and likely will not be able to stay in any type of fight with you for long.

The second reason to take the trip is the tempering thought that you probably are not in as good shape as you were the day you came out of the academy. Right? So, what exactly makes you think you can hang in a fight any longer than Mr. or Mrs. Obese? What exactly have you done in the last week, or two weeks, or even recent memory to improve your physical fitness? What have you done to better your physical preparedness to enter into a fight? Have you, as a supervisor, even tried to set the standard for your officers?

In 21st century law enforcement, if you are not part of a specialty unit such as SWAT, your agency probably does not require a set level of physical fitness for veteran officers. And even if they do, the requirements to meet the minimum standard are far from as demanding as they should be if one were to truly look at what challenges an officer may face in the street.

In what other endeavor do we even begin to think that a 50-year-old can, or even should, compete with a 21-year-old in any physical activity? How many 50-year-old professional hockey players exist? How many 50-year-old linebackers are in the NFL? How about baseball, a calmer and less physically demanding sport? Any 50-year-olds there? Nope, not one. This should be telling us something.

Plenty of 50-year-old law enforcement officers are still on the street. Why exactly do we think that is OK? How is it that a 50-year-old can ever expect to survive in the physically demanding world in which all officers live? The answer is simple. Experience and cunning. However, while the “I’ve seen this before” thought process keeps older officers alive, there is still a certain level of physical fitness that must be expected. There must be a threshold limit as to exactly how out of shape an officer can become.

As supervisors, particularly line supervisors, there is likely very little you are going to achieve in regard to agency policy. But there is a significant amount you can do to set the tone for your officers. This is truly one area where you can have a considerable impact on your officers in leading them by example.

If the sergeant is 60 pounds overweight and has to stop to catch his breath after ascending a flight of stairs, then the officers, particularly the younger and most impressionable, are going to begin to lose confidence. Let’s be clear on this: The physical fitness level of a supervisor affects the level of confidence the officers have in the judgment and standards of that particular supervisory officer.

This is not to say there are not good supervisors who are overweight or exceedingly poor supervisors who are physical specimens. It is, however, meant to point out that an officer will likely have much more confidence and feel more at ease with a supervisor who is capable of doing the same job he is doing, in the same conditions he does it.

If you cannot do a moderate amount of push-ups or pull-ups, if you cannot run at least several hundred yards without having to reach for the oxygen bottle, it is time to wake up and either get in shape, or find a new job.

We have all been repeatedly told throughout the years that law enforcement officers have a disproportionately higher death rate than others, due to heart disease and other medical ailments related to stress and poor physical fitness, yet we continually see more of the same. Back problems are at an epidemic proportion among our troops, and we blame the gun belt.

While partially true, the simple fact is that many officers do nothing to substantially improve or even maintain their bodies. In the end, just like a car that never has any maintenance, that body will begin to break down and fail to function when it is needed most.

You, as a supervisor, or even an officer, do not need to bench press your body weight or run an eight-minute mile to be in shape. But you do need to be in good enough shape to do your job. This means a level of physical fitness that will allow you to chase after those who flee and stay in the fight with those who resist.

If not for your officers or yourself, then do it for your family. After all, during that trip to the “fat farm” that masquerades as a water park, you did notice a couple of hard bodies, right? No, not the ones in the bikinis or the ones you can easily spot as fellow law enforcement or military types.

However, be concerned about others who look as if they can bench-press 400 pounds or run a four-minute mile. They are out there. They are the ones who are going to come up against you and your officers, and they are the ones who might just take your life if you are not in good enough shape to at least survive, much less prevail.

The old adage is true: Somewhere your enemy is training, so one day, when he meets you, he will defeat you. Train hard for that day, as it may very well be today. Get in shape or die. The choice, as always, is yours.

Scott Oldham is a Supervisory Sergeant with the City of Bloomington Police Department where he serves as the Tactical team leader for that agency. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2009

Rating : 7.6

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